Filed under: www.kidsinfrance.com | Tags: American in France, expatriate, family, France, French doctors, Geneva, infant jaundice, newborn, newborn gas, newborn weight gain, sleeping with a newborn, US culture, US politics
‘So live that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.’
I had been a bit confused when I was only prescribed the mid wife (sage femme) and the physiotherapy at the hospital after my son’s birth, but now I’ve discovered my regular GP will be my baby’s doctor. I figured I would get a paediatrician assigned, but it turns out there aren’t many to spare in France.
Adhering to the old wives’ tale that one should not take a newborn out of the cloister of its home till it has been alive for two weeks, I took my son to my GP when he was 15 days old. The doctor told me that my son’s jaundice is gone, which is good (the time spent in the window like a plant worked!). She also told me that he was not gaining weight at the rate that he should be, necessitating that we monitor this closely. I left the doctor’s office completely freaked out and cried. I don’t want anything to be wrong with my baby and I’m scared because he’s such a defenseless little thing.
Luckily, my brother and my sister-in-law (belle-sœur) arrived from Seattle to help us out. They have two children of their own, now ‘tweens.’ I figure the fact that their kids have survived thus far makes them ‘old hands’. Moreover, it’s wonderful to have my family nearby. It’s hard to be so far from them. It takes 14 hours flying, through 9 time zones, to get to where they live, which prompts my feeling rather isolated on holidays and in vulnerable moments (for any of us). My husband and I drove to Geneva to collect my brother and sister-in-law – our boy’s first ‘big’ outing – and dined at an outdoor café on the lake. I had been a little nervous about nursing my son in front of my brother, but then realized it’d be stupid to go and secret myself away each time the boy ate, which is every hour. Besides, scarves are immeasurably helpful for discretion (and luckily I carry one always, stuffed into my purse or in a pocket, even before I began nursing!).
I live in an almost perpetual state of embarrassment for being an American in Europe given the antics of American politics, the regular shootings, and the disparate tax rates. But every once in awhile, I am reminded how wonderful we Americans can be. My brother and his wife are full of optimism and earthy pragmatism. They’re open and encourage others to be so. They’re warm and gracious. When I told them that the French doctor had said that my son was not gaining weight as he should be, they assured me the rates of growth are different, particularly in this early stage, and the important thing is that he is not losing weight. When I told them that I didn’t know how to pass the time with the baby, who doesn’t seem to be able to do anything, they didn’t pretend to have all the answers. Instead, they assured me that no one really knows what they’re doing when they have their first child and you simply follow your new-born’s cues: eat when he eats. Sleep when he sleeps. Go outside and take a walk when you’re bored and stir crazy. They advised me to enjoy this initial period of my baby’s new life as though we’re both convalescing (we are!). I admitted that I’m sleeping with the baby on my chest, which ‘everyone’ tells me not to do, but which seems right – I can’t move with the caesarean anyway- and they didn’t judge me. Instead, they went to a local baby store and found a soft, little, slightly slanting bed so the baby’s head is a bit higher than its lower torso, with two detachable soft sides to it to keep the baby from rolling, which the baby can sleep on and which fits right between the pillows that my husband and I sleep on.
I never imagined I’d be so grateful for assistance – even the opportunity to give the boy to another pair of trusted hands in order to de-gas him is appreciated. I don’t think I have needed help as I do now. Perhaps it’s that in the past I was too proud to ask for and accept it, and now that there’s another person involved, I don’t have that same sense of ego?
Filed under: www.kidsinfrance.com | Tags: birth, France, French, healthcare, hospital, jaundice, midwives, paediatric, pets, pre eclampsia, pregancy, pregnant, sage femme, vw van
“I learn by going where I have to go.” Theodore Roethke
I ran into a woman at the hospital whom I’d met in a café last summer. It turns out her husband is a friend of my husband’s. She suffered pre-eclampsia with her baby, who is, consequently, down the hall in urgent care. I went to look at her new daughter through the window – she’s tiny, and my new friend says that she’s not been able to hold her yet, as she is so vulnerable and must stay inside the oxygen tent. Apparently, however, the little girl is developing and will eventually be fine. I told her that’s great, as we’ll be able to have play dates with our new babies. Makes me realise that having a little jaundice is not a big problem.
After vacillating the last few days, the doctors told me that we’d be able to go home from the hospital. I actually involuntarily clapped my hands and cried with joy at this news. I am, however, to seat Sebastian naked in the window every day for a ½ hour as you might a plant, and the rest of the jaundice will consequently go away in a few weeks. I packed my bags and nervously my husband and I walked down to the check out area with our new, precious, little cargo. It’s amazing how easy it is to walk out of the hospital with a baby. We literally took the child out of the paediatric ward unchallenged, went down the lift, noticed the check out desk of our own volition, put the wee man on the floor there, got his birth certificate and paid (only 220e for ten days in the hospital, the c section, the paediatric care, the phototherapy, all the sage femmes and nurses…it’s cheaper per night than a hotel in New Delhi) then walked out to the parking lot with no one noticing. Mark and I also feel like frauds because we aren’t quite sure about what to do with the baby once we get home.
We put S in our trusty old VW van, and carefully drove home. Upon our arrival, we put the sleeping tot on the floor for our beloved cat to get used to. He walked around the seat, and then began tentatively sniffing and batting it. It’s a good job my husband had regularly brought things S had worn from the hospital so that the cat could get used to his smell, because Oscar took to him pretty quickly after the first few moments. Breathing deeply of my home, I went upstairs to take a nap in my bed while my husband looked after our new charge. I marvelled at the fact that it felt as though a part of me was physically missing…as if I now have a phantom limb. The distance from our bedroom to the living room is the farthest I’d been from S for nine months. It was anxious, lonely, and poignant. Even so, I fell asleep pretty immediately.
What is anxiety provoking now is that no one at the hospital, or our good doctor, had told us what we do now. I’ve been given ordinances (prescriptions) for several sessions with a sage femme and a physiotherapist, respectively. This is very civilised in terms of postnatal care and adopting alternative therapies into recovery, but I trust conventional medicine. I know the sage femme is the one who will remove my stitches in the days to come, but no one has mentioned what to do for any health issue S may have – even a check-up on the jaundice he’s had to make sure it goes away. Do we go to our regular doctor? Is a different doctor assigned to S by mail or something? Do we go back to the hospital? When are we meant to go for a check up on the wee tot? Maybe the sage femme, or even the physio, will know the answer to these questions…
Filed under: www.kidsinfrance.com | Tags: baby jaundice, c-section, eye mask, French hospital, jaundice, mayor, midwife, nursing, phototherapy, sage femme, sun bed, sunbed
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Mark Twain
Since having my baby boy I’ve been in the hospital for 3 days. My C-section wound is healing, and I’m shuffling around. They do NOT let patients be lazy here in France, that’s for sure. They had me up and about a couple of days after I gave birth, forcing me to use the toilet and take walks up and down the hall.
Each day in the hospital is regimented activity, with the morning being the busiest. Seemingly all at once, there are people coming in to take the garbage, swipe down the counters and tidy the bathroom. Doctors come in to take my pulse, my blood pressure, and put some kind of measurement/radar on Sebastian. Sage Femmes (midwives) ask how the night went. Then a woman comes ‘round and asks what I’d like for lunch. Another brings my breakfast. After breakfast, my little family goes to the bathing room to wash Sebastian under supervision. Thank the fates for this, too, because we didn’t know what to do with him after he was born. Thank the fates for their fastidious conscientiousness in France, which ensures that new mothers know how to breast feed, burp, de-gas, bathe, and change their babies before they step foot out of the hospital. There are other people with their newborns in the bathing area, which is a room full of sinks and workstations. Other than a greeting, no one speaks or makes jokes. Perhaps we’re too tired? It’s amusing, too, because each of us eyes the other babies and mothers to compare with our own baby and our own post-baby bodies.
Oh! And the Maire (mayor) has been calling my room three times a day to find out what my boy’s name is and all of his birth details. Finally, today, we gave out his name officially – Sebastian Leo. Also today, the paediatrician told us that our boy has jaundice. I thought jaundice was akin to scurvy or small pox in the sense that it had passed out of western society. The doctor assured us that it was very common and a few days of phototherapy would sort it out. The phototherapy was started immediately. Unfortunately for this first time, my husband had gone home to make sure our beloved cat Oscar was okay and to do some work.
The phototherapy device is a small canister with a door that looks like a miniature sunbed with a little tarp suspended in the middle. The nurses took my baby, took off his ‘onesies’ and his diaper, taped some gauze over his eyes, then stuck him naked in the middle of the tarp in the machine and turned it on. Sebastian freaked. I tried to calm him, but I was scared, too, and upset that there was anything wrong with him in the first place. The nurses thought he was hungry. I fed him and he was quiet for a bit. Then he started crying again. The nurse went and got formula for him, saying it would ‘last longer’ and ‘be stronger’ for ‘our purposes.’ She shoved the milk into his mouth and he drank deeply and quietly. Once he’d finished a bit, she thrust him back in the sunbed, shut the door, and started the engine. Shortly thereafter, he threw up. The nurses were disgusted and complained that my baby was a problem. For the first time in my life I understood the feeling of a mother bear for her cub. I wanted to scream that they were rough and unfeeling. I wanted to scream that it would be scary for ME to get blindfolded and shoved naked, suspended, into a loud machine and he’s just come out of the safety of my womb. Sounds, sensations, eating, are all so new and overwhelming to him. But I held my tongue. I know I was hormonal, that he’s my child so I’m extra sensitive, and that they were just doing their job, albeit grumpily.
The need for phototherapy means I’m in the hospital for a few days longer, which distresses me somewhat, even as I realise it’s a good place to be in these first moments. I can’t really sleep comfortably on my bed because, as in all hospitals, there are many noises in the night: walking, crying, talking, jangling, scraping, jostling, rattling of carts and beds, people coming and going from your room. I’m alert to the noises my son makes, which disturbs my rest, as he makes frequent noises. I think he sounds a little bit like a pug dog. The lights in the hospital could be used to interrogate prisoners. I’m also worried that I’ll have to go pee and have to call a sage femme to help. They don’t generally respond quickly to the bell ringing, and when they do come they act as though they’re being majorly inconvenienced. I think that it’s more of a lazy thing than a malicious thing though. One nurse did take Sebastian away from me for four hours in the night last night to give me time to get sleep. I could hear him crying as they walked down the hall and away from my hospital room. I thought I’d never be able to relax because I’d worry that Sebastian was unhappy, but the next thing I knew she was back in my room, putting him in his basket, and I’d been deeply asleep for four hours.
Filed under: www.kidsinfrance.com | Tags: birth, c-section, caesarean, France, French, iodine wash, midwives, newborn, sage femme, skin, surgery
“A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.” Stendhal
I had my baby. His name is Sebastian Leo and he weighed 4 kilos. He’s healthy (passed some post birth test with flying colours which measures and grades signs of health, such as number of fingers, toes, lungs, breathing, organ functions, on a scale of 1-10).
For my caesarean, they wheeled me on a gurney through a maze of hospital halls and left me outside the operating theatre for a bit. Then I went in, and nurses spoke to me from above as I lay on my back, like a David Lee Roth video, which was disorienting, especially as everyone spoke French and I was having trouble concentrating. They gave me an epidural then laid me back down and pinned my arms to my sides like Jesus on the cross. That freaked me out. I could feel the surgeon performing the c section, which was bizarre: a sponge across my belly, cutting slowly and surely, pulling the baby out of my uterus and through the small incision as though pulling a sleeping bag from its storage sack. But it didn’t hurt. When Sebastian was born, one of the nurses held him to my face (I was still pinned) and he was mewling. I didn’t feel that love at first sight thing that many have said they feel. Instead, I kind of distractedly looked at the little baby and spoke softly to him, telling him it was okay and not to be afraid. I remember being charmed that he immediately responded to my voice by quieting. Then they took him away to my husband and wheeled me into a recovery area. The French strongly believe in skin-on-skin after birth, so when the mother has had surgery they give the baby to the father (or grandmother, or sister, or brother, or whomever is there to support the mother), have him take off his shirt, and instruct him to hold the baby close to his chest, speaking softly and caressing him. It’s really quite a beautiful and sane idea. That said, when my husband took Sebastian into his arms, the little one immediately tried to suckle him (“Not gonna find anything there mate!” my husband quipped). Meanwhile, I was lying prostrate in an area in which I was separated by other patients by a provisional curtain, and slowly feeling my body come back to a sensation other than complete numbness. My good doctor told me I wouldn’t be hungry for about 24 hours after I had the surgery, but I was starving! After an hour or two in the recovery area, I started asking if it was possible to have some food. The nurses got exasperated with me and I could hear one of them place a call and I heard her saying to the person on the other end “The American is hungry! I know…should we move her up to her room?”
Being given Sebastian once I was ensconced in my private room (maybe 25 euro per night, the rest is covered by the Carte Vitale – so civilised) was marvellous and scary. I didn’t think he was mine ‘cause his eyes were slits and he looked Chinese. I actually entertained the idea that I’d been given the wrong baby. Luckily, after a day or two his eyes opened and then he was the spitting image of my husband. Apparently, newborns look like their fathers so that the father will have empathy towards them, own them and protect them, rather than leave them in the woods or discard them as they might have in ages of old. I think that newborn babies are akin to vampires in the sense that they are designed to attract: they look adorable and they smell good, for example. It was very strange to nurse him. Particularly as I had 3 sage-femmes (midwives) instructing me at the same time on how to do it, standing very close to my breasts, and intermittently squeezing my nipple or massaging my breast rather abruptly and roughly! I thought it was strange how this little creature cannot move, yet to get to my breast he’ll wiggle and move like a wee worm to get there.
OMG, the C-section hurts! I can’t believe that I actually wanted one and said I’d opt for it electively if my doctor didn’t already order it (as 25% of women in the UK and USA do). I can’t move. I have to have a bedpan and it hurts to get on and off the pot. There’s a bandage and goo on the cut and they come and clean and change the dressing. I take 2 pills every few hours for pain and infection. I have to raise my bed all the way up and the back rest straight up in order to get to the top of the baby’s hospital crib (which rolls and is like a plastic bubble square), then sort of reach into him and roll him/move him onto me and then up to my chest. I have no stomach muscles. Never quite realised how much I used them now that I don’t have them to use. I dread going to the toilet or walking, but apparently that’s in the cards for me tomorrow!
Filed under: www.kidsinfrance.com | Tags: birth, c-section, caesarean, Chamonix, France, iodine, midwife, midwives, sage femmes, Sallanches
“Don’t tell your kids you had an easy birth or they won’t respect you. For years I used to wake up my daughter and say, “Melissa, you ripped me to shreds. Now go back to sleep.” Joan Rivers
I’m actually in the hospital room in Sallanches waiting for them to take me to the operating theatre for my C-section. My husband and I got to the hospital at 6am with the operation scheduled for 8:30. I had an iodine shower, necessary in France before my procedure, and not one of my finer moments. I felt like a prisoner being scrubbed. My husband did the iodine as I’m too huge to bend and can’t see my nether regions, so it was a very practical wash. While he was doing it in this little bathroom to the side of my hospital room, there were nurses, sage femmes, and the cleaning woman, who came to the door of the bathroom to enquire about this-or-that, inform us of something, or simply to take the rubbish bin.
My good doctor with the great ham hands who has overseen two of my three pregnancies, came in from Chamonix to do the procedure. While I’m sceptical about the size of the incision he’ll leave with his huge hands, I am touched that he bothered to do this because he’s so busy. It’s weird to see him outside his office and particularly in scrubs. He tells me that I’ll go into the operating theatre. I’ll be given an epidural. The incision line will be so tiny and low that I’ll be able to wear a bikini again “if you lose your baby weight,” he notes. The baby will be pulled out and he’ll sew me back up. I will not be given the baby after the operation. Instead, it will be given to my husband while I go into a recovery area for two or three hours. The French believe in the importance of skin-on-skin after birth, so my husband will be asked to hold and keep the baby against his bare chest while I am in the recovery area. Knowing my incompetence regarding babies, he assures me the sage femmes will instruct me how to do everything from nursing to changing his diapers. I let him know that I’m prepared – I brought an eye mask, earplugs, and sleeping pills.
It’s 9:30am now. There is apparently some kind of emergency that takes precedence over me (imagine!). As a result, my good doctor is arguing with the staff and trying to arrange a new time. He’s just informed me that he will have to return to his office and begin his workday. He’ll leave me his mobile number. “You’re going to leave me with all these Frenchies? I don’t know anyone here!” I start to panic. His manner is calm, competent and jovial. “I’m going to have a baby by the end of the day for god’s sake!” I remind him. “Peut-etre…” he jokingly replies. Grumpily I say, “Forget your office hours. This has been two years in the making.” He smiles and reminds me that he’s French and they’ll take care of me or else have him to answer to or worse yet, a lawsuit waged by an American woman. A man with a thick gold chain around his neck and a lot of dark chest hair unfurling upwards from his white coat walks in. My good doctor introduces this man and tells me that he will be doing the procedure and he’s a very fine doctor. I’m too stunned to even catch the gold-chained-doctor’s name and too scared to ask him to repeat it. He doesn’t speak any English. He’s wearing a gold chain for god’s sake! And that chest hair doesn’t seem hygienic! I have to do an iodine scrub and this man has a bale of black hair emerging from his whites? I’ll also have to concentrate on French at the same time a baby is being pulled out of my womb like a sleeping bag from its case. Rather rudely, I smile up at him, tell him I have no questions other than to be informed of when it will happen, and continue typing on my laptop. I hope he views this as typically French behaviour and doesn’t go light on the pain relievers in retribution.
It’s 12:30. I’m starving but they won’t allow me to eat before my procedure. Dangerous to leave a hugely pregnant woman hungry like this. I’ve been here for six hours and I haven’t eaten since yesterday’s dinner. I might bite someone’s hand or sneak (not too stealthily mind you) down to the candy machine to get a Snickers. The doctor with the gold chain has just come in. They’re going to give me a C-section at 1pm. He indicates a gurney in the hallway and asks me to get on top of it. It’s time. I hope to whatever fates and gods there are that the baby is fine and that all goes well. I’m scared. It hits me that I’m about to deliver a baby. So much can go wrong. And now I don’t have my good doctor there and my husband is not allowed into the operating theatre. Tears have started rolling down my face. “Be strong, Victoria. Try to have faith that things will turn out well,” my husband tells me (easy for him to say). I’ll close my laptop and say “good bye” for now.
Filed under: www.kidsinfrance.com | Tags: Aldous Huxley, Chamonix, collectivism, Dystopia, Dystopian, environmental disaster, France, George Orwell, global politics, Hollande, hypocrisy, individualism, Ray Bradbury, societal avarice
Be the change you wish to see in the world. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
One of the reasons I was reluctant to have a child was because I worried about the state of the world. My husband told me these worries were a rationalisation for my greater concerns like my not wanting to forfeit naps. He argued that negative global events are precisely the reason that thoughtful individuals should have children. But as I go into the last several weeks of my pregnancy I find myself fighting my previous trepidations about bringing a child into this world which I believe is only getting worse. I’m a glutton for news, even as it upsets me (both the topics and the reporting). My father used to advise me not to take it all so ‘personally,’ but I find it all to be a personal affront because I find all of the worries and incidents of the world to be indications of greater philosophical issues such as selfishness, avarice, corruption, hypocrisy, inequity and aggression.
Globally, I see the fact that the Syrian leader won’t step down, even as his Russian allies tell him the situation is untenable and he should help implement a new regime and transition government, as the sign of universal greediness and hunger for power regardless of which country one cites. Many people in the Philippines are living and being schooled on houseboats due to rising water levels (and I won’t even go into the animals and vegetation and desertification throughout the world) yet apart from a few developed countries like Denmark, there doesn’t seem to be any real initiative to aid the environment by using sustainable energy supplies, which I see as a sign of universal selfishness and lack of foresight because it seems no one wants to compromise their way of life even in small ways. There was that huge shooting in the US last week of almost 40 people – there are now so many families grieving – and gun sales went up in the days that followed. The American government signed in a new fiscal deal, and while it’s certainly good that something has managed to happen in an ideological bi-partisan country, the very rich – and even the middle and lower classes – do not seem to object to the fact that there is not health coverage and educational opportunities for all, which can only be had with more money coming into the coffers, which means higher taxes. If the US continues in this manner of individualism and capitalism at all costs, it will not be able to proclaim that it’s the land of opportunity for all. Yet other countries are equally as bad. Since Hollande proposed the 75% tax for the upper 1%, 5000 rich folks have left the country, even Gerard Depardieu, who owes the French people for his money and fame. In the UK, despite the fact that banks were bailed out by the government, which is ostensibly for the people, the banks have not passed on their savings to customers in recent years and despite their rising profits. And, while many folks are not able to live in major cities like London anymore, meaning they often must commute for work, transit costs in the UK have gone up 50% in the last ten years.
Perhaps opportunity and resources only for the few is the crux of the matter? Capitalism versus Socialism? Perhaps it’s a sign of collectivism versus individualism run riot? Is this the fault of Thatcherism and Reaganomics? Is it simply human inclination? I often see people operating in their own interests to the detriment to others in all manner of ways on a daily basis even in a little mountain town like Chamonix, particularly during the high season when there are many holiday makers: no one wants to cede their way on the roads, making it dangerous in the snow and ice; no one wants to give cuts in the cue at the grocery market to a heavily pregnant woman with two items or a young mother with a toddler when they’ve just fought to get their huge grocery carts full of food; folks don’t clean up after themselves in the cinema, or they throw rubbish on the ground, or they don’t pick up their dogs poop; and I was recently told by a few women here that I was attempting to discuss politics with that they don’t know who Romney was/is and they don’t ‘bother’ to read the papers or watch the news ‘cause it’s ‘too depressing.’ Indeed. Why be informed? Why vote? Why should we look out for anyone else’s interests when it’s so damn hard to assert our own in this rat race of a world? I see the dystopian novels of Philip K. Dick, Anthony Burgess, Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell moving from science fiction to reality. The only thing that is keeping me going right now is another thing my father told me before he died – that we cannot affect others because they don’t want to be proselytised to, but we can live our lives the way we would like everyone to live their lives. Simple advice that’s not easily followed…it’s hard to remain patient and kind and to take the ‘right action’ when one is tired, or worried, or over extended, or highly emotional and pregnant!
Filed under: www.kidsinfrance.com
“Never go to your high school reunion pregnant or they will think that is all you have done since you graduated.” Erma Bombeck
huge and swollen
can’t shave my legs
or tie my own shoelaces
can’t get comfortable
sleeping or sitting
going pee all of the time
night and day
tired, restless and strong
of the baby
can be seen